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North Korea Launches Missile Ahead of Japan-South Korea Summit

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - North Korea launched a ballistic missile on Thursday, Japan and South Korea reported, hours ahead of a major summit in Tokyo between Japanese and South Korean leaders.

Citing Defense Ministry officials, Japanese broadcaster NHK said the North Korean missile was expected to land at 8:18 a.m. local time after staying in the air for nearly 70 minutes.

The missile will fall about 550 kilometers east of the Korean Peninsula, outside Japan's exclusive economic zone, NHK reported.

If those figures are confirmed, they indicate a longer-range ballistic missile launch by North Korea.

South Korea's military also reported a ballistic missile launch toward the sea off North Korea's east coast but did not specify how many or what type of missiles were involved.

It is North Korea's third round of launches this week. On Tuesday, North Korea reported firing two medium-range ballistic missiles. On Monday, it claimed a successful launch of two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine.

The latest launch comes just hours before South Korean President Yoon Seok Yeol was set to travel to Tokyo for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida - the first visit by a South Korean president to Japan in 12 years.

Japan-South Korea ties have been hampered by historical disputes related to Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of South Korea but have recently improved in part because both leaders feel the need to cooperate more closely on the North Korea issue.

The launches also coincide with ongoing U.S.-South Korea military drills, which have been ramped up in response to North Korea's increased weapons tests and threats.

North Korea launched more than 90 missiles in 2022 - by far the most it has ever launched in a single year. The North Korean launches show no signs of slowing in 2023, as the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, has promised a powerful response to U.S.-South Korean drills, which Pyongyang treats as preparation to invade.